On Wednesday, the Big 12’s media representatives voted five Texas Longhorns players to the preseason All-Big 12 team, as junior offensive tackle Connor Williams, senior defensive tackle Poona Ford, sophomore defensive end Malcolm Roach, junior linebacker Malik Jefferson, and junior punter Michael Dickson all received recognition.
The five Longhorns tied for the most of any team in the conference.
A candidate to earn recognition as College Football Player of the Year as one of four offensive linemen on the Maxwell Award watch list, Williams is widely regarded as one of the top offensive tackles in the country. If he once again turns in an All-American campaign, as he has through both of his first two seasons on the Forty Acres, he’s expected to become one of the top draft selections in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Ford will help anchor the defensive line for the ‘Horns as the nose tackle in even and odd fronts, though he could also play some odd front defensive end, as he did last season for former head coach Charlie Strong. The South Carolina native is undersized at 5’11, but turned in an impressive spring and looks poised to build on his 5.5 tackles for loss, four quarterback hurries, and 54 tackles, which ranked fourth on the team. His 40 solo tackles gave him an impressive ratio of individual stops to overall tackles, which is unusual for a defensive lineman.
One of the breakout stars from the 2016 season, especially on defense, Roach will transition from his hybrid role last season to a full-time defensive end in coordinator Todd Orlando’s aggressive defense. During the offseason, Roach increased his weight to better anchor against the run. As a freshman, Roach recorded eight tackles for loss and three sacks.
As usual, the expectations will be high once again for Jefferson, who was the state’s top player in the 2015 recruiting class. Draft analysts expect him to solidify his position as one of the top draft-eligible linebackers next spring after he moves away from middle linebacker after spending most of two seasons miscast in that role.
Despite a midseason benching for lack of production, Jefferson still managed to improve upon his production as a freshman, finishing third on the team with 62 tackles, in addition to 8.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
Dickson, a native of Australia and a former Aussie Rules football player, was a Ray Guy Award finalist last season as one of the top punters in the country and may be the odds-on favorite to win the award this season. The Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year in 2016 averaged a school-record 47.4 yards per punt in 2016, downing 28 punts inside the 20, unleashing 25 punts of more than 50 yards, and registering a career-long punt of 74 yards.